WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Spring wildflowers of Oakland County woodlands capture our hearts, stir memories and draw the attention of woodland hikers, nature lovers and sometimes white-tailed deer. The flowers of May are short-lived flowers, and must emerge from the moist soil, grow rapidly, flower and produce seeds before the abundant oaks that named our county Oakland County leaf out and block the sun from the forest floor. The days of muted, dappled light seemingly dancing on the forest floor are rapidly fading. Shade will soon dominate and end the show of the ephemeral flowers. Now is the time to go for a woodland wildflower hike on the wilder side of Oakland County while their blooms remain; and there may even be a bonus, late-emerging morel mushrooms.
WHITE TRILLIUM: Perhaps no wildflower draws more attention than the white trillium, a species that has many common names, included the snow trillium, the large-flowering trillium, and white wake-ribbon. This woodland beauty may be rare in some areas, but great carpets of them appear in some of our Metroparks, county parks and our heavily wooded state recreation areas. The West Bloomfield Woods Nature Sanctuary, surrounded by suburban development, and the woodland edges of the Polly Ann and Paint Creek Trails are also great place to pause on the trail and view trillium. White-tailed deer pause too, and snack on their leaves. It won’t be long until the waxy white, three petal flowers that bloom from a single stalk of three deep green leaves begin to wither and turn a gentle shade of pale rose. Then they’ll be gone until next spring.
MAYAPPLE: The somewhat mysterious mayapple is a lover of shade and companion flower of the trillium, and often thrives in the same woodland habitat. Mayapples are approaching peak bloom now and often grow in large colonies sometimes with hundreds of plants. One could almost imagine elves or fairies hiding under the umbrella of plants to hide from the sun, or rain. If an observer bends down to look underneath the leaves, they will see the hidden flowers, or perhaps a toad waiting to ambush bugs.
JACK-IN-THE PULPIT: The rains of last week and unseasonable warmth of this week have accelerated the rapid growth of Jack-in-the-pulpits, one of the more beautiful and often overlooked woodland flowers of late May. Their unusual flowers are on a cylindrical column–alias Jack. “Jack” is surrounded by the “pulpit”, a tubular petal-like structure with a curved hood that may be green or sometimes green streaked with red. It takes on a special beauty after rain, for the droplets seem to cling to the plant and glisten in sunlight.
WOOD ANEMONE: The Wood Anemone is a delicate and tiny treasure of our spring woods and thrives along the edges of moist woodlands trails where light filters through the trees. It’s small, about six inches tall, with white or sometimes pinkish streaked petals and deeply lobed dark green leaves. The unseasonable heat of this week will end their flower show quickly, but healthy colonies of these beauties can still be found, often near downed and decaying logs.
BLOODROOT: Bloodroot is past peak, and almost all have already bloomed and petals have wilted and fallen. But not every bloodroot is done; some are late bloomers. Their very short-lived flowers open in daylight and close at night or during cold weather. The oddly shaped leaves continue to grow in size until the middle of summer. Some are already larger than an outstretched hand. All parts of the plant, especially the roots, exude a bright reddish-orange sap when cut, hence the common name, bloodroot. The plant has a rich history of medicinal and folk uses and contains the alkaloid sanguinarine, which is currently under study by government, private medical centers and universities.
GOLDEN RAGWORT: Golden ragwort is an odd name for a tall golden beauty that loves moist soil and blooms in May at the edge of wetlands and marshy areas of our woodlands. Golden ragwort is one of our earliest blooming native asters and seems to demand attention with its brilliance. It’s easy to spot from boardwalks that cross wetlands and trails near marshes.
MARSH MARIGOLD: The stunning yellow buttercup-like flowers of marsh marigold began to appear in early April and is one of first wooded wetland flowers to appear in the spring. The plant often grows in clusters in boggy areas, swamps and moist areas of our wooded wetlands. With the temperature in the 80s most of the week, the great show of the marsh marigold won’t last long. It’s a show that should not be missed.
WILD GERANIUM: Wild Geranium’s purple blossoms are delicate works of nature’s art. They draw the attention of the human eye – and butterflies, bees, spiders and other insects. Although the plants sometimes appear in very small numbers, they often form stunning patches of color under the dappled light of late May. This year they are ahead of the game in seed production and have already produced tiny pods. As the seed pod dries it catapults the seed away from the “parent plant” assuring more will grow in the same area next spring. Wild Geranium has a secret: Each of the seeds has a very tiny, almost tail-like structure that moves in response to changing weather and humidity. This helps the seed get a good footing in moist soil, increasing the chances of germination.
FLOWERING DOGWOOD: The flowering dogwood tree is a real treat when noticed, but sadly it’s often missed by hikers that are not looking all about, including over their heads. Dogwood is a slender tree that rarely reaches 30 feet in height and is most abundant in the shaded understory of hardwood trees. Their white or whitish yellow blossoms have reached peak, another sign that the season of our ephemeral wildflowers is preparing to make way for the ways of nature and field flowers of June.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.